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London 2018/19


How well does the fire and rescue service look after its people?

Last updated 17/12/2019
Requires improvement

A fire and rescue service that looks after its people should be able to provide an effective service to its community. It should offer a range of services to make its communities safer. This will include developing and maintaining a workforce that is professional, resilient, skilled, flexible and diverse. The service’s leaders should be positive role models, and this should be reflected in the behaviour of the workforce. Overall, London Fire Brigade requires improvement at looking after its people.

Staff don’t feel that all managers are good role models of the expected values and behaviours. The brigade should do more to make sure that these are understood and shown by all staff.

The brigade has increased its resources to improve how it looks after staff health and wellbeing. It should now make sure that all staff understand and know how to get support, especially after traumatic incidents.

There is no single corporate overview of workforce skills and capabilities. There hasn’t been enough progress in developing all levels of leadership and management competence, or the planned new corporate appraisal scheme. The brigade has a new programme to assess the ongoing competence of firefighters, with extension to all operational groups of staff planned. It should make sure that this programme can assure the brigade of the competencies held by staff.

We are concerned about the backlog of staff training in risk-critical skills such as incident command and emergency fire engine driving. Some staff have had no continuing training in these skills for many years. Also, there is no individual reassessment of incident command skills. Staff can’t fail incident command training for poor performance and will therefore return from training to command actual incidents. This is worrying: there needs to be a fundamental review of the contract with the external contractor to ensure that it is fit for purpose. This will help the brigade assure itself that all its incident commanders maintain their competence.

The brigade actively seeks feedback from staff but needs to make sure that problems identified by staff are appropriately and quickly addressed.

To identify and remove barriers to equal opportunity so that its workforce represents its community, the brigade has invested in resources and changed its approach to recruitment. It also has a range of staff support networks. To its credit, the brigade’s workforce is one of the most diverse in the country but it doesn’t yet reflect London’s diverse communities.

The brigade needs to make sure that staff understand the value of positive action and having a diverse workforce. It should also make sure that all its fire stations provide suitable privacy and facilities for women.

Processes for selecting, developing and promoting middle and senior managers lack effective recording and openness. Staff don’t have confidence in them. Nor is there a process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

Questions for People


How well does the FRS promote its values and culture?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure its values and behaviours are understood and demonstrated by all staff.
  • The brigade should make sure all staff understand and know how to get support after a traumatic incident.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the brigade’s performance in this area.

Workforce wellbeing

The London Fire Brigade offers a range of wellbeing services for staff, although their effectiveness is mixed. Staff can use a self-help portal online, as well as other occupational health and counselling services. These facilities are located at two separate sites in central London, which limits ease of access, particularly when staff can often be off duty. Support is also available for staff through a 24-hour telephone contact number, 7 days a week.

There are voluntary workplace mental health champions but wider provision is inconsistent. There are plans to give mental health awareness training to managers.

There is no wellbeing strategy in place and, although occupational health staff monitor sickness rates, the brigade is significantly behind its targets.

The brigade has enlarged its staff counselling and trauma service team because of increased demand after the Grenfell Tower fire.

The brigade doesn’t contact staff immediately after an incident. It aims to contact them within three days of a referral. After Grenfell, demand far outstripped counselling availability. But availability has improved significantly this year, despite there still being over 400 referrals each year. People who have used the service were positive about it, though not all staff knew how to access it and some are still waiting to be called by the team.

The team saw 60 people who had been affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in the year to 31 March 2019. In 2017/18, it saw 138 people, some of whom had post-traumatic stress disorder. There has been a rise in service uptake by control staff in 2018/19, with 47 percent of those using the service affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. Staff witnesses at the independent public inquiry had a total of 49 days’ counselling support.

Health and safety

The brigade has health and safety policies and supporting arrangements in place. Of the 377 respondents to our staff survey, 89 percent said they were encouraged to report all accidents, near misses and dangerous occurrences in the past 12 months, and 93 percent of staff said they know how to report these incidents.

However, the brigade doesn’t do written risk assessments at the incident ground, which is the workplace for firefighters.

The brigade manages overtime well for wholetime staff through its establishment and performance team. It ensures that most employees’ working time is within safe limits. Overtime in control and support staff posts, however, is higher, which mirrors concerns raised in brigade staff surveys.

Most operational staff have had a three-yearly medical and fitness assessment, but fitness isn’t assessed every year in line with national guidance. The brigade should assure itself that all operational staff are fit enough for their role.

An independent report in November 2018 outlined health and safety concerns to do with brigade property and facilities management. The brigade is working to resolve these problems.

Culture and values

The brigade’s values aren’t clear to see and aren’t well understood by staff. We didn’t see any evidence that work to develop a behavioural framework linked to the values had so far produced any results. It is positive that staff recognise that the senior leadership team wants to promote a people-focused approach to improve the culture. Staff based at headquarters feel that most leaders are often available. Staff talked about positive initiatives such as regular breakfast meetings with managers. However, beyond the headquarters, there is a strong perception of a gap between senior leaders and the rest of the workforce.

Some staff we spoke to don’t believe that all senior and middle managers behave according to the brigade’s values at work. Some were described as lacking empathy or being disengaged from the workforce. Station-based staff spoke of not seeing senior leaders, other than local borough commanders, for many years. This situation seems worse the further staff are from headquarters. In other areas of the brigade, we found a belief that senior leaders are too focused on operational staff and don’t value other staff groups in the same way.

The 2018 brigade staff survey reported that about one-third of staff are negative about senior leadership in terms of their availability and openness. The brigade should continue to promote its people-focused approach and assure itself that staff at all levels behave at work according to the brigade’s values.


How well trained and skilled are FRS staff?


Areas for improvement

  • The brigade needs to train all staff properly for their roles, including developing all levels of leadership and management competence.
  • The brigade should extend its new maintenance of competence programme to all operational staff groups as intended. It should make sure this programme can assure the brigade of the competencies held by staff.

Cause of concern

The brigade has a significant backlog of training for staff in risk-critical skills such as incident command and emergency fire engine driving. Some staff haven’t had continuation training in these skills for many years. There is no individual reassessment of competence for incident command. The brigade should act immediately to address this.


By 28 February 2020, the brigade should:

  • develop a plan to remove gaps in all risk-critical skills training; and
  • develop a plan to reassess incident command competence at all levels in line with national guidance, and to determine what arrangements it will put in place when staff fail to achieve the standard set by the brigade.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the brigade’s performance in this area. 

Workforce planning

The brigade’s training and development plans aren’t realistic and can’t assure the public that the brigade gives adequate priority to risk-critical training.

Every year, the brigade uses information from several sources to decide the priorities for its training plan. There is no single overview of workforce skills and competencies. There is limited succession planning, and the brigade acknowledges that its forecasts of when people will retire have been consistently inaccurate.

Staff skills and capabilities don’t fully align with the London Safety Plan. Most training was contracted to an external provider in 2012, which put welcome investment into training facilities. But this contracted training isn’t enough to meet the brigade’s needs. This, along with inertia by the brigade in setting their training needs and detailed processes, means that any change takes a long time (around 12 to 18 months). There needs to be a fundamental review of the contract to make sure it is fit for purpose. The brigade recognises that it needs to change how it works with the contractor but change calls for significant investment. At the time of inspection, no funds were set aside.

There are several areas of concern arising from this situation – emergency driving and incident command in particular. Some fire engine drivers hadn’t had refresher training for up to 20 years before 1 April 2018. National guidance recommends refresher training every five years. The brigade has started to address this, but we have been told it will take until January 2022 for all drivers’ refresher training to be current, in line with this guidance. Accidents involving employees have fallen significantly, but road traffic collisions involving brigade vehicles haven’t. This is another concern when combined with the backlog of driver training.

All incident commanders must pass a command assessment as part of the promotion process. However, training to gain initial incident command skills isn’t given until after they have taken on the role and begun to command incidents. We found that, in some level 1 commander cases (crew manager and watch manager), this was up to a year afterwards. We also found examples of firefighters acting up as level 1 incident commanders having had neither training nor assessment.

Services should provide continuing training and reassessment for staff. This assures them that staff knowledge, skills and understanding are current, and that they are commanding competently and safely.

In London, refresher training is only available for level 1 (crew manager and watch manager) and level 2 (station manager and group manager) commanders, and it isn’t a formal reassessment of command competence – that is, staff can’t fail for poor performance and will therefore return to command incidents.

Training for level 3 commanders (deputy assistant commissioner and assistant commissioner) isn’t consistently in place. The brigade is developing a training package to address this. No work has begun for level 4 commanders (deputy commissioner and above). Most level 3 and 4 commanders we spoke to confirmed they hadn’t had training for several years.

While the brigade has recognised the risk of this situation and has developed a formal process for level 1 command assessment, it isn’t being piloted until 2020. Nor has work begun on developing assessments for other levels of command. The brigade has identified that this work will need extra funds, but has none currently allocated.

Given the scale and complexity of incidents that these managers have to deal with, we encourage the brigade to address these training problems as a matter of utmost urgency, including determining what arrangements it will put in place when staff fail to meet the standard it has set. This will help it assure itself and the public of the command competence of all its incident commanders.

Training and development for control room staff and middle managers are also inconsistent. We found that training and recording was extremely limited, and often left to individual members of staff to provide. Support staff also feel that development is hampered by posts being filled by retired operational officers.

Learning and improvement

The brigade’s approach to staff training and competence is inconsistent, but it is in the process of being improved.

Stations produce an annual training plan, which is uploaded to the electronic station diary three months before training dates to meet core skills gaps. This plan is supported by a borough training and exercising plan.

The brigade has a system to check the competence of operational firefighters and has introduced improvements since 1 July 2019. They plan to extend the system to other operational staff next year.

In the revised process, staff train for 20 core competencies (previously four) known as the ‘wheel of competence’. Staff must refresh these skills at set intervals. Some training, such as emergency driving and breathing apparatus, is given centrally by the contractor. Other training is given locally by line managers. These local managers are supported by e-learning packages, but some were reported to be significantly out of date. Many of these managers aren’t trained to train or assess their staff, which makes it difficult to assure the quality and consistency of local training.

Training is recorded in individual training records and station diaries. But this record only shows that a member of staff attended, not that they are competent in all necessary skills. To be sure that staff are competent, the brigade relies on other measures, such as operational assurance officers doing station inspections, monitoring at borough exercises and online quizzes after e-learning.

Under this new system, all local training attended for core competencies will be monitored over two years through an online dashboard. So, it will be 2021 before there is a complete overview.

There are examples of organisational lessons learned from operational incidents, including detailed reports after the Grenfell Tower fire, that will rely on staff development to improve. However, the rate of change is slow.


How well does the FRS ensure fairness and diversity?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure issues identified though its staff survey are addressed on time and that actions are communicated to staff.
  • The brigade should identify and overcome barriers to equal opportunity, so that its workforce better represents its community. This includes making sure staff understand the value of positive action and having a diverse workforce.
  • The brigade should make sure that all fire stations have suitable facilities for women.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the brigade’s performance in this area.

Seeking and acting on staff feedback

The brigade gets feedback from staff in different ways, such as staff surveys online, a staff suggestion scheme and the commissioner’s blog. The value of feedback mechanisms is diminished by the limited evidence that changes ever result from the feedback. Many staff don’t feel confident in expressing their views or challenging the current situation without fear of reprisal. Nor do they believe that their ideas or suggestions will be listened to. We heard about actions from brigade surveys being put into departmental plans but not progressing or being completed.

Of the 377 respondents to our staff survey, 64 percent felt unable to challenge ideas without any detriment as to how they will be treated afterwards, and 28 percent reported feeling bullied or harassed in the past 12 months, with the highest response for what it was related to being role, rank or level in the service.

The brigade has an extensive representative body engagement framework. It shows this commitment by including feedback from representative bodies in the London Safety Plan. The representative bodies acknowledged this commitment.

However, we heard frequent references to the disproportionate influence of the Fire Brigades Union and operational staff relative to other groups. People working in mixed teams described being treated differently from operational colleagues because of inconsistent management decisions. People felt that staff discipline and management are inconsistent and unfair. There is a consistent view that projects only progress if they are first endorsed by the Fire Brigades Union.

The brigade has effective procedures for employees to raise concerns. This is supported by an online reporting system that is open, accessible and consistent. Managers can read guidance online. The brigade is introducing training, in 2019, in the handling of disciplinary and grievance cases. We found that grievance cases are handled in line with the procedures. However, the brigade should better communicate with employees about their welfare when they are engaged in the process.

Since the new online grievance reporting system was introduced in July 2018, the people services department has overseen cases. This has allowed the brigade to assure itself that outcomes are fair and consistent, and that lessons are learned from any trends.


The London Fire Brigade is more diverse than many services but far from truly representing its community. As at 31 March 2018, only 13.4 percent of firefighters were from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, compared with 40 percent of London residents. And only 7.2 percent of firefighters were women.

An inclusion strategy and action plan were implemented in 2016. The brigade acknowledges that they aren’t fit for purpose and that it intends to develop alternatives. Work to embed equality into corporate policy and practice is at an early stage and hasn’t yet had any meaningful results.

The brigade engages with under-represented groups in the workforce and works to resolve concerns through various staff forums.

Early steps have been taken to increase workforce diversity. The brigade has recently invested in reinstating an outreach team, responsible for recruitment and community engagement. There has been investment in a campaign to promote the variety of the role of firefighter. However, brigade evaluation shows the campaign hasn’t been as effective as anticipated.

Not all staff understand and value the benefits of the brigade’s approach to making the workforce more diverse. There is no corporate equality, diversity and inclusion training. We were troubled to hear that staff from a BAME background, those with a disability and female uniformed staff need to use counselling and trauma services more often than other colleagues.

Not all stations have facilities that staff and HMICFRS consider suitable. For example, not all offer staff the privacy they need. Of the 377 respondents to our staff survey, 28 percent reported feeling discriminated against at work in the past 12 months, with the highest response for what it was related to being role, rank or level in the service, and the second highest being gender.


How well does the FRS develop leadership and capability?

Requires improvement

Areas for improvement

  • The brigade should make sure it has an effective system in place to review individual staff performance and development.
  • The brigade should make sure that it selects, develops and promotes staff in an open, accessible and fair way, including temporary promotions.
  • The brigade should put in place an open and fair process to identify, develop and support high-potential staff and aspiring leaders.

We set out our detailed findings below. These are the basis for our judgment of the brigade’s performance in this area.

Managing performance

The link between performance and staff development needs is limited. Other than a few inconsistent local examples, there is no corporate process for assessing performance. The previous process has fallen into disuse.

At the time of inspection, most staff hadn’t had a recent meaningful performance review, and therefore weren’t aware of any personal objectives. In the year to 31 March 2019, only 25 percent of wholetime staff had one, and this was lower for other staff groups – that is, 17.4 percent of support staff and 5.4 percent of control room staff. Because of this, staff lack confidence in how managers manage performance, and believe that access to development opportunities isn’t open or fair. There is little training for managers or staff in using feedback effectively, and therefore learning opportunities are potentially stifled.

The brigade’s significant change to its operational command structure in October 2019 moves it away from nationally agreed role descriptors and back to a historical rank-based structure. It is hoped that a performance review process setting out clear expectations for each rank will be developed. This will also allow managers and staff to measure success against objective criteria. A specialist consultant has been hired to advise but at the time of our inspection there had been little progress.

However the brigade chooses to progress this issue, it should make sure that it has a system in place for staff to have regular meaningful conversations about performance, development, career aspirations and wellbeing.

The brigade doesn’t have a full picture of the talent available and how well this matches the needs of the London Safety Plan. Corporate management development programmes are only available to supervisory managers and are under review. There are few opportunities for staff to develop leadership capabilities, and staff career pathways aren’t actively managed.

Developing leaders

The brigade has no apparent process for identifying or developing staff with high potential to be senior leaders of the future.

During inspection, we sampled records from recent promotion processes at all levels of management. At supervisory level, processes were fair, open and accessible, and staff described recent improvements.

This wasn’t always the case at middle and senior manager level. Here we found that record keeping was often poor or inaccurate, and the rationale for making selections wasn’t clear and was sometimes unavailable. This echoes strong staff feelings of unfairness and a lack of openness in selection at this level. There is also little independent oversight of selections for employees temporarily acting up into roles, leading to a lack of consistency.

There are few opportunities for staff with specialist skills to transfer or progress, owing to their lack of development or a lack of other staff developed enough to replace them.